Sec 13: Unphilosophical Probability

SEC 13: UNPHILOSOPHICAL PROBABILITY

  • All these kinds of probability are:
    • received by philosophers
    • allowed to be reasonable foundations of belief and opinion.
  • But there are other kinds derived from the same principles.
    • Though they were not fortunate to obtain the same sanction.
  • The first probability is that the reduction of the union and resemblance reduces the facility of the transition.
    • It weakens the evidence.
    • The reduction of the evidence will follow from:
      • a reduction of the impression
      • the shading of those colours it appears to the memory or senses.
  • The argument we found on any fact we remember is convincing as the fact is recent or remote.
    • Even if the difference in these degrees of evidence is not received by philosophy as solid and legitimate.
    • Because in that case, an argument must have a different force today from what it shall have after a month.
      • Yet despite philosophy’s opposition, this circumstance:
        • has a considerable influence on the understanding
        • secretly changes the authority of the same argument according to the different times it is proposed to us.
  • A greater force and vivacity in the impression naturally conveys a greater force to the related idea.
    • According to the foregoing system, belief depends on the degrees of force and vivacity.
  • We may frequently observe a second difference in our degrees of belief and assurance.
    • Though disclaimed by philosophers, it always takes place.
  • A recent experiment, fresh in the memory, affects us more than one that is obliterated.
    • The recent one has a superior influence on the judgment and the passions.
  • A lively impression produces more assurance than a faint one.
    • Because it has more original force to communicate to the related idea, which thereby acquires more force and vivacity.
  • A recent observation has a like effect.
    • Because the custom and transition:
      • is more entire there
      • preserves better the original force in the communication.
  • Thus, a drunkard who has seen his companion die of a debauch:
    • is struck with that instance for some time
    • dreads a like accident for himself.
  • But as its memory decays:
    • his former security returns
    • the danger seems less certain and real.
  • As a third instance, our reasonings from proofs and probabilities are different from each other.
    • Yet reasonings from proofs often degenerates insensibly into the reasonings from probabilities through many connected arguments.
    • When an inference is drawn immediately from an object without any intermediate cause or effect, the conviction is much stronger and the persuasion more lively than when the imagination goes through a long chain of connected arguments, however infallible the connection of each link.
  • The vivacity of all the ideas is derived from the original impression through the customary transition of the imagination.
    • This vivacity must:
      • gradually decay in proportion to the distance.
      • lose somewhat in each transition.
    • Sometimes this distance has a greater influence than even the influence of contrary experiments.
    • A man may receive a more lively conviction from a probable reasoning, which is close and immediate, than from a long chain of consequences which are just and conclusive in each part.
      • Such reasonings seldom produce any conviction.
  • One must have a very strong imagination to preserve the evidence to the end, where it passes through so many stages.
  • A very curious phenomenon has been suggested to us on this.
  • We can only have an assurance of a point of ancient history by passing through:
    • millions of causes and effects
    • a very long chain of arguments.
  • Before the knowledge of the fact could come to the first historian, it must be conveyed through many mouths.
    • After it has been written, each new copy is a new object.
      • The connection between the two objects is known only by experience and observation.
  • Therefore, the evidence of all ancient history must now be lost.
    • Or at least, all evidence will be lost in time, as the chain of causes increases and runs on to a greater length.
  • But it seems contrary to common sense to think that if the republic of letters and the art of printing continue as at present, our posterity can ever doubt if there has been a Julius Caesar.
    • This is an objection to the present system.
  • If belief consisted only in a certain vivacity, conveyed from an original impression, it:
    • would decay by the length of the transition
    • must finally be extinguished.
  • Vice versa, if belief sometimes is incapable of such an extinction, it must be something different from that vivacity.
  • A celebrated argument against the Christian Religion has been borrowed from this topic, but with the difference that the connection between each link of the chain in human testimony has there been supposed not to:
    • go beyond probability
    • be liable to doubt.
  • This way of considering the false subject has no history or tradition.
    • It has what must lose all its force and evidence in the end.
  • Every new probability reduces the original conviction.
    • However great that conviction is, it is impossible it can subsist under such re-iterated reductions.
  • This is true in general.
    • But we shall find later in Part 4, Sec 1, that there is one very memorable exception which is of vast consequence to the present subject.
  • The preceding objection is against the supposition that historical evidence initially amounts to an entire proof.
  • To solve this, let us consider that there are innumerable links connecting any original fact with the present impression, which is the foundation of belief.
    • Yet all these links are of the same kind.
    • They depend on the fidelity of printers and copyists.
      • One edition passes into another, into a third, and so on, until we come to the current volume.
  • There is no variation in the steps.
    • After we:
      • know one, we know all of them.
      • have made one, we can have no scruple as to the rest.
  • This circumstance alone:
    • preserves historical evidence
    • will perpetuate the memory of the present age to posterity.
  • If the long chain of causes and effects connecting any past event with any volume of history were made of parts different from each other, it is impossible we should preserve any belief or evidence to the end.
    • But as most of these proofs are perfectly resembling, the mind:
      • runs easily along them.
      • jumps from one part to another with facility
      • forms but a confused and general notion of each link.
  • Through this, a long chain of argument has as little effect in reducing the original vivacity, as a much shorter chain would have, if composed of parts:
    • different from each other
    • which each required a distinct consideration.
  • A fourth unphilosophical species of probability is that derived from general rules, which:
    • we rashly form to ourselves
    • are the source of what we properly call prejudice.
  • An Irishman cannot have wit and a Frenchman cannot have solidity.
    • The conversation of the:
      • Irishman may be visibly very agreeable.
      • Frenchman may be very judicious.
    • But we have entertained such a prejudice against them.
    • They must be dunces or fops in spite of sense and reason.
  • Human nature is very subject to errors of this kind; and perhaps this nation as much as any other.
  • I think prejudice proceeds from those very principles which all judgments on causes and effects depend on.
    • Our judgments on cause and effect are derived from habit and experience.
  • When we have been used to see an object united to another, our imagination passes from the first to the second, by a natural transition.
    • This transition:
      • precedes reflection
      • cannot be prevented by reflection.
  • Custom naturally operates:
    • with its full force when the presented objects are exactly the same with those we have been used to
    • in an inferior degree when we discover objects to be similar but not exact.
      • The habit loses its force by every difference.
      • Yet it is seldom entirely destroyed if any considerable circumstances remain the same.
  • A man who is used to eating fruits, such as pears or peaches, will satisfy himself with melons if he cannot find his favourite fruit.
    • A man who gets drunk with red wines will get almost as drunk with white wine if given to him.
  • From this principle, I have accounted for the species of probability which we derive from analogy.
    • Through analogy, we transfer our experience in past instances to objects which are resembling, but are not exactly the same with those objects we have experienced.
  • The probability reduces as the resemblance decays.
    • But still has some force as long as there remain any traces of the resemblance.

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  • We may carry this observation farther.
  • Custom is the foundation of all our judgments.
    • But sometimes, custom opposes judgement in the imagination.
      • It produces a contrariety in our sentiments concerning the same object.
  • In almost all kinds of causes, there is a complication of circumstances.
    • Some circumstances are essential, others are superfluous.
    • Some are absolutely needed to the produce an effect.
    • Others are only conjoined by accident.
  • When these superfluous circumstances are numerous, remarkable, and frequently conjoined with the essential, they have such an influence on the imagination.
    • Even in the absence of the essential circumstances, they:
      • carry us on to the conception of the usual effect
      • give to that conception a force and vivacity, which make it superior to the mere fictions of the fancy.
  • We may correct this propensity by a reflection on the nature of those circumstances.
    • But it is still certain, that custom takes the start, and gives a bias to the imagination.
  • To illustrate this by a familiar instance, let us consider a man who is hung from a high tower in an iron cage.
    • He cannot refrain from trembling when he surveys the precipice below him, even if he knows he is perfectly secure from falling, by his experience of the iron’s solidity which supports him.
    • Though the ideas of fall, harm and death are derived solely from custom and experience.
  • The same custom:
    • goes beyond the instances:
      • from which it is derived
      • to which it perfectly corresponds.
    • influences his ideas of such objects as are in some respect resembling, but fall not precisely under the same rule.
  • Depth and descent strike so strongly on him.
    • Their influence cannot be destroyed by the contrary circumstances of support and solidity, which should give him a perfect security.
  • His imagination runs away with its object, and excites a passion proportioned to it.
    • That passion returns on the imagination and enlivens the idea.
    • This lively idea has a new influence on the passion.
      • It adds the force and violence of that passion.
      • His fancy and affections, mutually supporting each other, cause the whole to have a very great influence on him.
  • Why do we need to seek other instances, when philosophical probabilities offer us an obvious instance in the opposition between the judgment and imagination arising from these effects of custom?
    • According to my system, all reasonings are nothing but the effects of custom.
    • Custom has no influence, but by:
      • enlivening the imagination
      • giving us a strong conception of any object.
  • We can conclude that:
    • our judgment and imagination can never be contrary
    • custom cannot operate on imagination which will render it opposite to judgement.
  • We can only remove this difficulty by supposing the influence of general rules.
    • We shall afterwards notice (Sec. 15) some general rules which should regulate our judgment on causes and effects.
    • These rules are formed on:
      • the nature of our understanding
      • our experience of its operations in the judgments we form concerning objects.
    • By them we learn to distinguish the accidental circumstances from the effective causes.
  • When we find that an effect can be produced without the concurrence of any particular circumstance, we conclude that that circumstance does not make a part of the effective cause, however frequently conjoined with it.
  • This necessity of frequent conjunction makes it have some effect on the imagination.
    • Despite the opposite conclusion from general rules, the opposition of these two principles:
      • produces a contrariety in our thoughts
      • causes us to ascribe the:
        • one inference to our judgment
        • other inference to our imagination.
  • The general rule is attributed to our judgment, as being more extensive and constant.
    • The exception to the imagination is attributed as being more capricious and uncertain.
  • Thus our general rules are in a manner set in opposition to each other.
    • The first influence of general rules is:
      • When an object, that resembles any cause, appears in very considerable circumstances, the imagination carries us to a lively conception of the usual effect.
        • Though the object has different circumstances from that cause.
    • The second influence of general rules, which implies the condemnation of the first influence, is:
      • When we review this act of the mind and compare it with the more general and authentic operations of the understanding, we find it to be:
        • of an irregular nature
        • destructive of all the most established principles of reasonings.
          • This is why we reject it.
  • Sometimes the one, sometimes the other prevails, according to the person’s disposition and character.
    • The vulgar are commonly guided by the first influence.
    • The wise are guided by the second influence.
  • Meanwhile, the sceptics may here have the pleasure of:
    • observing a new and signal contradiction in our reason
    • seeing all philosophy:
      • ready to be subverted by a principle of human nature
      • saved by a new direction of the very same principle.
  • The following of general rules is a very unphilosophical species of probability.
    • Yet it is only by following them that we can correct this and all other unphilosophical probabilities.
  • Since we have instances where general rules operate on the imagination even contrary to the judgment, we need not be surprised to:
    • see their effects increase, when conjoined with that latter faculty
    • observe that they bestow on their presented ideas, a force superior to what attends any other.
  • Everyone knows that there is an indirect manner of insinuating praise or blame, which is much less shocking than the open flattery or censure of any person.
    • The influence of a man’s sentiments is not equally strong and powerful, even if he:
      • communicates them by such secret insinuations
      • makes them known with equal certainty through their open discovery..
  • One who lashes me with concealed strokes of satire, does not move my indignation as if he flatly told me I was a fool and coxcomb.
    • Though I equally understand his meaning, as if he actually told me.
    • This difference is attributed to the influence of general rules.
  • I do not immediately perceive a person’s sentiment or opinion whether he:
    • openly abuses me, or
    • slyly intimates his contempt.
  • I only become sensible of it by signs and its effects.
  • The only difference between these two cases is that in the open discovery of his sentiments, he uses general and universal signs.
    • In the secret intimation, he uses more singular and uncommon signs.
  • This causes the imagination to make the transition with greater facility, in running from the present impression to the absent idea.
    • The imagination consequently conceives the object with greater force, where the connection is common and universal, than where it is more rare and particular.
  • The open declaration of our sentiments is called the taking off the mask.
    • The secret intimation of our opinions is the veiling of them.
  • The difference between an idea produced by a general connection, and an idea arising from a particular connection is here compared to the difference between an impression and an idea.
    • This difference in the imagination has a suitable effect on the passions.
    • This effect is augmented by another circumstance.
  • A secret intimation of anger or contempt shows that we:
    • still have some consideration for the person
    • avoid abusing him directly.
  • This makes a concealed satire less disagreeable.
    • But  this still depends on the same principle.
  • When an idea is only intimated, it would never be esteemed a mark of greater respect to proceed in this method than in the other.
  • Sometimes insults are less displeasing than delicate satire.
    • Because it revenges us for the injury when it is committed, by affording us a just reason to blame and contemn the person who injures us.
  • But this phenomenon also depends on the same principle.
    • Why do we blame gross and injurious language, unless it is because we esteem it contrary to good breeding and humanity?
    • Why is it contrary, unless it is more shocking than any delicate satire?
  • The rules of good breeding:
    • condemn whatever is openly disobliging
    • gives a sensible pain and confusion to those we converse with.
  • After this is established, abusive language:
    • is universally blamed
    • gives less pain on account of its coarseness and incivility,
      • These render the person who employs it despicable.
  • It becomes less disagreeable, merely because originally it is more so.
    • It is more disagreeable because it affords an inference by general and common rules that are palpable and undeniable.
  • I add another analogous phenomenon to this explanation of the influence of open and concealed flattery or satire.
    • There are many particulars in the point of honour of men and women.
      • The world never excuses when the violations of this honour are open and avowed.
      • The world is more apt to overlook those violations when:
        • the appearances are saved
        • the transgression is secret and concealed.
  • Those who know that the fault is committed, pardon it more easily when the proofs are oblique and equivocal, than when they are direct and undeniable.
    • The same idea is presented in both cases.
    • It is equally assented to by the judgment.
      • Yet its influence is different because of the different manner, in which it is presented.
  • If we compare the open and concealed violations of, we shall find that:
    • In the open violations of the laws of honour, the sign of the blameable action is:
      • single
      • alone enough to be the foundation of our reasoning and judgment.
    • In the concealed violations of the laws of honour, the signs:
      • are numerous
      • decide little or nothing when alone.
  • Any reasoning is always the more convincing:
    • the more single and united it is to the eye
    • the less it makes the imagination:
      • collect all its parts
      • run from them to the correlative idea forming the conclusion.
  • The labour of the thought disturbs the regular progress of the sentiments. (Part 4, Sec. 1)
    • The idea does not strike us with ouch vivacity.
    • Consequently, it has no such influence on the passion and imagination.
  • From the same principles we may account for those observations of the CARDINAL DE RETZ, that:
    • there are many things the world wishes to be deceived in
    • the world more easily excuses a person in acting than in talking, contrary to the decorum of his profession and character.
  • A fault in words is commonly more open and distinct than one in actions.
    • A fault in actions:
      • admit of many palliating excuses
      • decide not so clearly concerning the actor’s intention and views.
  • Every kind of opinion or judgment, which does not amount to knowledge, is derived entirely from the perception’s force and vivacity.
    • These qualities form the BELIEF of the existence of any object in the mind.
  • This force and vivacity are most conspicuous in the memory.
    • Our confidence in the veracity of memory:
      • is the greatest imaginable
      • equals the assurance of a demonstration.
  • The next degree of these qualities is that derived from the relation of cause and effect.
    • This too is very great, especially when:
      • the conjunction is found by experience to be perfectly constant
      • the object present to us, exactly resembles those we have experienced.
  • But below this degree of evidence, there are many others that influence the passions and imagination, proportional to the force and vivacity they communicate to the ideas.
    • By habit, we make the transition from cause to effect.
    • From some present impression, we borrow that vivacity which we diffuse over the correlative idea.
  • In all the following cases, the evidence reduces by the reduction of the idea’s force and intensity:
    • when we have not observed a sufficient number of instances to produce a strong habit
    • when these instances are contrary to each other
    • when the resemblance is not exact
    • when the present impression is faint and obscure
    • when the experience is obliterated from the memory
    • when the connection is dependent on a long chain of objects
    • when the inference are derived from general rules and yet not conformable to them.
  • This therefore is the nature of the judgment and probability.
  • What principally gives authority to this system is:
    • the agreement of these parts
    • the necessity of one to explain another.
  • The belief which attends our memory has the same nature with the belief derived from our judgments.
    • There is no difference between:
      • that judgment derived from a constant and uniform connection of causes and effects
      • that judgement which depends on an interrupted and uncertain.
  • In all determinations where the mind decides from contrary experiments, the mind is first divided within itself.
    • It is inclined to side in proportion to the number of experiments we have seen and remembered.
  • This contest is won by the side which has a:
    • superior number of these experiments
    • reduction of force in the evidence correspondent to the number of the opposite experiments.
  • Each possibility, which makes up the probability, operates separately on the imagination.
  • The larger collection of possibilities finally prevails with a force proportional to its superiority.
  • All these phenomena lead directly to the precedent system.
    • It will never be possible on any other principles to give a satisfactory and consistent explanation of those phenomena.
  • Without considering these judgments as the effects of custom on the imagination, we shall lose ourselves in perpetual contradiction and absurdity.

Words: 3576

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